Monday, 22 November 2010

Horses' Backs - pain in the back(side).

Oh dear…it’s been a while again. Sorry about this. Things should be a little more on track from now on! I have started my Master’s and am absolutely loving it – it’s fabulous to be learning again and having had five years as a teacher, as you can imagine, I have become a real swot! The course is varied and intense but I am still getting plenty of time to spend with Echo, which is great.

Echo has got used to being a field horse – she’s grown a huge furry winter coat and is looking pretty rough around the edges. However, the stables that my parents are building are NEARLY finished and so hopefully she will start coming in at night before the really bad weather kicks in. I am really struggling for money, so hoping to use some really economical bedding, possibly Megazorb, which is supposed to need minimal mucking out on a day to day basis and confines the wet patch to a really small area. We’ll see how this goes!

I think in my last post I may have jinxed things in terms of riding. When I first moved up here, Echo was going fabulously. However, things started to go steadily downhill, mostly in terms of her behaviour – she got a bit nappy – spooking a lot and running away from under me at the slightest thing. I was really confused, as this is not like Echo at all. I always check her over when I groom and tack up, but she started to get more and more difficult about her back. It was odd – to begin with it was barely noticeable, then after a while she was obviously very sore.

The lady who keeps a horse with Echo is a back specialist, so I got her to take a look and she said she was very uncomfortable and it would be worth getting a saddler to look at her saddle. AGAIN!!! After all the stress I went through less than a year ago, the saddle appears to not fit. I found a master saddler and sure enough, she said the saddle doesn’t fit. What is more worrying is that she didn’t see how it could ever have really fitted. It’s apparently too narrow between the panels. Echo has uneven shoulders (so I learnt) and she also has a tendency to push the saddle forwards onto these uneven shoulders. When this happens, the saddle then apparently twists, putting pressure on one side of her back. It also puts added pressure on the back of the saddle, as it is becoming too high in front.

The saddler watched me ride in my saddle and it was awful – Echo was totally lame – she couldn’t even trot. That was the worst she had ever been – I felt I had to promise the saddler that I hadn’t just been riding her like that! She recommended I have her back treated again, then give her a few days off and she would come out again bringing some saddles that she thought would fit. When she did, she pulled out this absolutely beautiful saddle. Typical! It was brand new and I nearly melted over it. Sure enough, she put it on her and it stayed nice and low in front and was held in place by a point strap. When I rode in it, Echo felt soft and forward and lovely. Her neck was able to bend in both directions and I suddenly realised how bad things had got – that’s the problem when you ride a horse all the time – changes happen gradually so that you don’t really notice.

The problem? This saddle is £925. I don’t have £925.

The saddler left me to think about it and I thought a lot. I had pretty much decided to just buy it on my credit card and pay it back when I could, but then I lunged Echo a couple of days later. She looked fine when she was free, but when I put side reins on, she went crazy, running and spooking and getting really upset and unreasonable, rather like she had been the last couple of times I’d ridden her. I didn’t see how it could be her back, as she’d had time off and been treated. Next avenue of thought – teeth. She was due to have her teeth done anyway and my friend suggested that rather than getting a vet as I always have before, to try her horse’s dentist.

I’ll write a separate post about the dentist, as it was a fascinating experience, but the short version is that her teeth had never been properly rasped at the back. Ever. The back teeth were like razor blades and had caused huge amounts of muscle tension in her poll, which is likely to have been causing her a lot of discomfort. Now how bad do I feel!? The dentist recommended that I get a new bit, one with a lozenge in the middle, as she has a fleshy mouth and a big tongue; she thinks that that might help.

So where to go from here? She has had a week off after the dentist, and tomorrow I plan to lunge her very gently in a headcollar to see how she looks. If she still looks uncomfortable, I have a vet coming to vaccinate her on Friday and I may start some investigation into what the problem might be. I will also get the back lady to check her over again and see how her back is doing now that she has had her teeth done and her mouth shouldn’t be as sore. So for the moment, I can’t even think about saddles. I am half looking out for an Ideal Jessica, as the saddler said that was the only other type of saddle that she could see fitting her. Perhaps I should ride her bareback for a while. Any opinions on that? I’m not convinced by riding bareback – does it harm a horse’s back? Would be interested in your views.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

A difficult few days.

Echo and I are beginning to settle. I know that these things take time, particularly when we have been at a nice, well-run livery yard and it now feels like we're 'roughing-it' a bit, but we've had a difficult couple of days.

I went away last weekend for a couple of days and left Echo with the lady who owns Gizmo, the other horse in the field. We had had a good week of riding, and even ventured out for a little hack on Friday, which Echo was brilliant on, so I was feeling really positive about the whole situation. When I arrived back on Monday morning, I found Echo wandering around outside the fenced off section of the field. She hadn't broken the fence, she had just gone through it somehow!

Now, I know that Echo has history with this, but I had really hoped that we could have got this sorted before she started breaking out. That day was a complete nightmare. Every time I put her back in, she got out again within half an hour or so. The worrying thing was that there are no gates at the moment into the garden, where the building work on the stables is still being done. Not only are there so many things for her to injure herself on, she would also destroy my parents' garden!

I was running through so many ideas in my head - moving her to a livery yard...selling her! We decided to see whether we could make the electric fencing any stronger, as it was only giving 3000 volts, which all the websites say is the minimum for horse paddocks - never mind fencing to contain a Houdini-horse! The battery also seemed to be running really slowly, only giving a click every 5 seconds or so. I'm pretty sure Echo was barely being touched by it. The battery had only just been charged, so my dad took the whole lot to the local farm suppliers and asked for their help!

He then bought a new battery - a leisure battery rather than a car battery and a new earthing stake and we had a go with that. I would still like it to have a little more oomph to it's shock - it is now giving off between 4.5 and 5000 volts, which is a big improvement. It is also clicking every 2 seconds, so this should deter her a bit more. It has luckily been very mild and dry for the last few days, so I have been leaving her without a rug on, so that she definitely gets a shock if she tries to go through it, and so far, touch wood, this seems to be working. I am loathe to say that the problem is solved, as that would probably jinx it, but so far so good. Tonight, however, it is puring with rain, so I have put a rug on and am sitting here with my fingers crossed, hoping that she stays put.

There is more grass in the other section of the field, so we are going to fence this, perhaps even this weekend, but I would like to save some grass for the winter time - even if it has little goodness in it, it is still there and they will spend their time eating it!

In contrast to all of my problems, Echo has been absolutely brilliant to ride! Seriously, she's going better than she's ever gone. I now get on by my parents' front gate and ride her round the village to the school; she stands beautifully to wait to cross the road and no longer spooks at every driveway! I've now been out for two hacks on my own, as there is no one to ride with, and she's been far better than she ever was on her own before! She seems to really enjoy being out - we went out for nearly an hour yesterday, going for two really long canters along lovely straight grass tracks that seem to go on forever. Although it's all farmland, it is much less industrial than the farms we rode round in Suffolk, where every field has some kind of machinery or activity going on. She's also so far been very good with the traffic. I have to ride along a fairly main road for a little while in order to get to the path onto the farmland, but there is a concrete path to the side of the road - this is both good and bad - it's good because we are off the road and cars don't have to go round us, but it's bad because that means that cars don't really have to slow down. Most are very courteous and do, but there was a lorry that rattled past us yesterday - she tensed up, but didn't do anything. Clever pony!

She has been going beautifully in the school too - we've been working on lateral work in trot - shoulder in and travers, and learning to do half-pass in walk. I just wish I could get out and do stuff - go to riding club training or go out competing. I need to find someone who has a trailer they aren't using, or someone local who goes to things, but I've been struggling to find anyone at all who does anything! People who have horses don't seem to ride them, or at least don't hack them out and some people have been particularly unfriendly. This is a bit of a pet hate of mine - since moving to the area I have tried to be really friendly - I smile and say hello to everyone I pass in the village - and from the looks I get sometimes, you'd think I had sworn at them or something! I'm a bit stubborn really...and this just makes me more determined to be even more friendly! I WILL make them be civil!

So...there have been some bad things and some very good things. The stables are getting there. The walls are pretty much finished and by the end of the weekend, we should be ready to start concreting - which would be fantastic - at least I will have somewhere to stand her then! She is getting much braver about everything - I brought her right over to the kitchen door today, to take her saddle off as it had begun to rain and I didn't want it to sit out and get wet, and she very nearly walked into the kitchen! Another bad thing...the Red Arrows. I'm sure I'll post more about this in future, but the Red Arrows train over my village, and they fly low. Very low. Echo is getting used to this, and no longer even looks up when she's out in the field, but I'm wary of riding when they're flying, as it's very dangerous. I waited all afternoon for them to stop today. The irony of this? I then ended up riding in a thunderstorm! You can't win.

The end of this post has become very rambling and random, so I will stop now. I will try to post some photos of the stables' progress as they are looking really good now.

The Red Arrows - not horse-friendly!!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


I've moved, Echo has moved and we are beginning to get sorted. It has been quite a summer; my boyfriend and I moved out of our house at the end of July, so that month was spent moving our furniture into storage and the rest of our stuff into his parents' house. Since then, I've been gradually moving all of my bits and pieces that I'll need for the next year up to my parents', about 3 hours' drive away; lastly, I moved Echo.

The journey was good - she travelled with another horse so she was very calm, although he did eat all of her hay - it's unlike her to let anyone eat anything that she deems 'hers', but she has a particularly soft spot for this horse, as was shown when we hacked out together the day before!! I arrived in Lincoln about an hour before she did, so I just had time to check all the fencing and to check that the other horse, Gizmo, was in the correct part of the field: we decided to keep them separate to begin with, then take the dividing fence down after a day or two. I was impressed with how calm Echo was in her new field - it was blowing a gale and Gizmo was running up and down the fence calling when we arrived. I kept her on a lead rope for a bit and let her graze in hand in her field. To be honest, I think she was so amazed by the sight of so much grass, she didn't care about much else!

I left them to it for a little while, and when I went out later that evening, they were calmly grazing - each of them very close to the fence, so that they were as near as possible. Having them separate made things much easier: Echo is fed twice a day, whereas Gizmo isn't fed, as he isn't worked, so when they were separate I could just put her feed in her field; when I wanted to get her out to work her, as I did on the day after we arrived, I could just take her out of the field calmly. However, whenever I went out they were standing so close to each other that I figured they would probably like to be together. It was the evening after we arrived that I took the dividing fence down. Echo looked exhausted: she was obviously tired from travelling and felt safest sleeping near to him. They were both very calm; I'd been muck-picking the field for a little while and they both seemed chilled, so I quietly removed the fence...and all hell broke loose!

They charged around the field, bucking, leaping and galloping, as if they'd never seen each other before. I do wish I'd had a camera though - what Echo did next was amazing. If any of you have seen Monty Roberts work a horse, you'll know the natural horsemanship way of communicating through body language, to mimic the dominant member of the herd. Echo was performing textbook Monty Roberts stuff. Gizmo came over to her and she moved towards him with her ears back; he didn't listen, so kept coming and she ran a couple of steps; he paused, but kept coming, so she reared vertically, waved her front feet at him and spun round to kick out. That certainly got him to move away from her. For the next five minutes she just kept moving him around - whenever he stopped to graze she'd move him on again. After a few minutes, he was ready to do anything she told him - and even after four days, he still is! When I go to get her out of the field, she sees him coming over and turns to square up to him, so he backs off. When she starts walking towards me again, if he follows she pushes him away again - it's very handy for me - less shooing and chasing him away!

So - other things. I have definitely been spoilt over the last few years with having her on livery. I am finding it pretty hard to adjust. I'm really enjoying doing everything myself, but I'm finding the lack of facilities really tough. My parents are in the process of having stables built and they'll probably be finished in the next 6 weeks, but in the mean time, I have nowhere to take her that is hard for her to stand on and near to my stuff. At the moment, I am getting her out of her field, leading her over to near the house and sort of 'pretending' to tie her to a rather rickety fence, under a tree. I have to lug my saddle and all of my stuff over to there beforehand and then hope that she will stand still to be groomed and tacked up. At the moment, Gizmo still thunders up and down the field, calling wildly to her when I'm doing this. She takes little notice, but today she realised she wasn't tied up and took off across to him, with her lead rope hanging from her headcollar still. She's easy enough to catch, but it is really starting to get to me.

To make things even more difficult, the wind has been ridiculously strong since I arrived. Seriously, it has not let up at all. I know that horses should just 'deal' with this, but it does affect Echo's mood; it was slightly quieter on Sunday and that made a huge difference to her state of mind when I had her 'tied up'. I have to lead her through a back road through the village and across a busy road to get to the school. She is getting better at this, but is still incredibly spooky. Today, what with the wind and the escaping episode, I was feeling a bit rubbish about everything. Then, just as I got to the school, the heavens opened and it tipped down with torrential rain - I have never known water to fall from the sky like this did - it was like being under a power shower. I managed to get her under the over-hang on the livery yard, but she was spooked by the wind, so wouldn't stand still. I got on anyway, and rode in the increasingly water-logged school. She was ok, just not really listening - concentrating more on the wind and the sounds around her. The first half of our session was terrible and I was getting really frustrated, but it started to improve; the weather got a bit better and she began to listen. In fact, she felt quite calm at the end, so I rode her back to the house through the village and she was very very good. I was proud of her for that. And me.

The yard that has the school is tiny, but there is hardly anyone there. In order to solve a few of my problems, I may see if I can arrange to keep my tack there, so that I can lead her round there and deal with her on a proper concrete surface and get out of the rain if necessary. Hopefully the concrete should be down on our yard in the next couple of weeks, so that even though the roof won't be on yet, I'll have somewhere secure to tie her up, out of the field.

I feel like I'm complaining and being very selfish; I know how lucky I am to have my horse at home and to have somewhere to ride. I am just having problems adjusting to it all and finding it all a bit overwhelming at the moment. Hopefully my posts will become a bit more positive over the next few weeks...

My make-shift tack room!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Getting closer!

Where has the summer gone? This has to have been one of the busiest summers ever, and unfortunately, not so much of it has been Echo-related! What with moving out of my house (into four different places) and trying to organise going on holiday and applying for loans to fund my journalism studies, I have had very little time to do anything else! As you saw in my last post, I've managed to compete a little, but unfortunately I won't be able to do any more competitions now, as we've run out of time!

The next big thing on the horizon is my move up to Lincolnshire. My family have a house with land and have been busily building me a couple of stables and converting a shed into a tack room; I am eternally grateful for this, as although I intend to keep Echo outside for most of the year, if we have another winter like last year, I shall be glad of the stables!!

The plan was to hire a lorry and drive Echo up to Lincolnshire myself this weekend. However, I was then offered a lift from a very kind lady at the yard who is taking her horse up to the national riding club championships in Lincoln and has space in her trailer; I could not believe my luck as this solves a whole host of problems: the stables are not finished and there is no concrete in the yard; the extra time should hopefully mean that they are a little closer to being done. I was terrified about driving the lorry myself; my boyfriend was going to come with me, but that would involve masses of driving; this way, I can drive my car up behind her trailer and then I'll have everything there. It has all worked out pretty perfectly, so we are staying for an extra couple of weeks. Even with an extra week's livery, I still think I will save money as hiring a lorry is bloomin' expensive!

I was on holiday in France for 10 days over the last couple of weeks and Echo has been finding ways to entertain herself. As is usual for her at this time of year, she has taken to climbing out of her field. It all coincides with her being in season, not being worked and probably feeling a bit bored as she is out on her own at the moment. She has geldings on both sides, but none of them pay her the slightest bit of attention! So she gets out and goes to find someone who is interested. I'm hoping that this won't continue to happen when I get her home; she'll be living with a very attractive gelding, so hopefully that should keep her occupied for a while!!

Talking of fencing, I am going up to Lincolnshire again this week to sort out the fencing in my parents' field. At the moment it has sheep wire all the way around, with two strands of barbed wire on top. Obviously, this is unsuitable, but I can't afford to totally re-fence the field yet. What I've decided to do is to get long insulators that hold electric tape about 20cm from the outside fence, and run two lines of this round the perimeter of the field. It isn't perfect, but provided it is on, it should stop her getting close to the nasty barbed wire behind. At some point, when we have a bit more money, I hope to properly re-fence the outside all the way round. For now, this will have to do. The field will be cut in half so that we can rotate the grazing, and to begin with, will be cut in half again so that Echo and Gizmo can be kept separate for a while, just til they get to know each other.

I'm excited and nervous about having Echo at home. It feels like a big responsibility when I've been used to having her on livery, but it also feels 'right' - the 'proper' way to have a horse. I've still got a few more logistical issues to sort out, but I hope we're going to be able to carry on doing things together. I'm hoping to join a local riding club, for example; I don't have transport, but thought that if I join a riding club, someone might be passing my house and able to give me a lift to training or competitions. It's worth a shot, I reckon.

For the next couple of weeks, I'm hoping to get her back to the standard she was schooling at before I went on holiday (it always feels like we've gone back about 3 steps!), do some jumping and go on plenty of hacks. We'll make the most of our extra week in Suffolk!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Competitions and a little catching up to do!

Goodness - it's been ages! It will take me a long time to bring you all up to date on what Echo and I have been doing so this post will just be a brief overview. We've been having a few lessons with a fantastic Portuguese dressage trainer, we've been hacking and jumping a lot, and we've been competing - yes, proper competing!

I was going to register with British Dressage, but with my up-coming move, I'm not sure how worthwhile it will be, so we've been sticking to unaffiliated competitions for now, but we're having so much fun. There is a lovely and very generous lady at the yard who used to compete at Prix St George with her horse who she has now retired from schooling and only hacks with, and she has now driven me to a couple of shows. One was about a month and a half ago and the other was on Friday.

Echo is so fabulously behaved at shows. I didn't completely expect her to be, but at her first competition, she came off the lorry, had a little look around, then stood tied to the lorry with a haynet until asked to do some work. The competitions we've been to have been in a lovely venue - really well run, with great surfaces; having said that, there are plenty of things there that I would have put money on her spooking at, but she seems to just know what she's there to do, gets her head down and tries her hardest.

At the first show, we won our first prelim class and came fourth in the second - she was a bit tired by the second one as I think I'd worked her in for too long. I also had a few issues with downward transitions and nearly ended up in the judge's box at the end of the second test! On Friday, her second ever show away from home, she was absolutely brilliant. I didn't warm up for too long, so she felt fresh and lively going into the arena. It wasn't a test I'd ridden before, but I could tell it would suit her. We even got a 9 for our centre line entry!!

She was a star - we won the prelim with nearly 79%. Could not have asked for more from her at this stage. Next came our first novice test - not exactly an easy one either - it has two diagonals of medium trot and two long sides of medium canter, as well as a walk to canter transition, so lots of places where things could have gone wrong. A couple of things did - we got the wrong canter lead at one point - rider-error entirely - and we didn't really do any medium strides in trot. I'll post more about my schooling another time, as I have lots to talk about with engaging her more and getting her to carry more weight on her hindlegs. We are certainly getting there - she is much more 'through' than she used to be, but there's always more work to do - that's why I love dressage!

Anyway - we won the novice too! I totally wasn't expecting to, but the judge seemed to really like her and commented on what a super attitude she has. I would have to agree. I'll post the videos here, so you can see how we're getting on. I will be posting a little more regularly soon - I promise!

Saturday, 17 April 2010


I've been mentioning for a while that there are big changes on the horizon, but haven't got round to explaining what they are. This week I am heading into my last term at the school I teach at, and in fact, my last term of teaching altogether...for a while at least! In September, I am going back to university to do a Masters degree in journalism. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, but I wanted to feel like I'd given teaching a good go first; that way, I know I can come back to it later if I want to.

I looked into various options - should I stay where I am and do a distance learning course? Should I do a course at all or just try to find a job? But the more I thought about the Masters, the more I really wanted to do it - to get back into studying. I haven't yet decided what area of journalism I want to get into, so hopefully the course will enable me to make lots of contacts and get lots of experience so that I can find a job that I love.

For Echo, this will mean another move of area. I am going to study where my parents live, and it just so happens that they have a big paddock that already has two horses on and they are thinking of building a couple of stables. It needs work before I would put Echo on it (nasty barb wire fencing etc) but it all seems like it will be rather perfect. It was funny - as I thought more about the options, this plan just seemed to slot into place.

The best bit (other than the exciting change of career of course!) is that there is a small DIY livery yard across the road and if the weather gets as bad as it did last winter, I could keep her there for a while instead of her living out; but also, it has an arena with a lovely rubber surface and the owner said that I can pay a small amount each month and use it whenever I like!! It is absolutely perfect, and literally only 100 yards from my house.

I will post a bit more about changes that I'll be making to the paddock, as I don't know a great deal about managing grazing, and would really value some advice from those of you experienced at it. Initial plans are to split the 3 and a half acres in half with electric fencing so that we can rotate it. It needs some sort of treatment as there are buttercups on it at the moment, and I will need to change the top two layers of barbed wire all the way round the outside, which will be pricey, but vital. I will also have to consider muck heap options, as there is a ditch that runs into a stream in the field which I know I must keep away from.

There's a bit of work to do, but I'm just so glad that I don't have to sell Echo or put her out on loan - the fact that I can do the course I want to AND take my horse with me is amazing. Just got to get through this last term now!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Look what we've been doing!!

We had such a fun morning! We went with a friend who rides her horse western style and just wanted to take him out somewhere. Echo was a star - she jumped everything I asked her to and didn't put a foot wrong - except for a strange little hoppy thing she did after a couple of jumps. She really enjoyed herself, as you can see in the videos. She was absolutely exhausted though!

Really happy with her - she travelled well and was very calm the whole time - what a superstar!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A Short Catch Up...

I must again apologise for my poor commitment to blogging regularly. It has been such a busy few weeks since I wrote about Wiola's visit. I have been working very hard on my position in the saddle, although probably not doing the 'off the horse' exercises enough. I think I'm much straighter now, and when I recently rode in my old saddle so that I could jump, it didn't slip at all, which would suggest that I'm not leaning to one side nearly as much as I was.

So - the last few weeks have been busy - lots of riding and lots of other things too - more about that to come! Echo and I have been doing lots of schooling, but also some jumping, which was brilliant and lots of hacking. The countryside is not quite as good as at my old yard; I can't complain, as it's all off-road, but it is round farmland and there is a lot of machinery! It's very good for her to learn about tractors and irrigation and spinny spraying things and huge white sheets covering wide expanses of space... but it can be a little hairy when we're out on our own! Luckily, most of the farmers are really nice and if they see you're in trouble they stop and turn off their engines. Some don't. Some even start their particularly loud spinny spraying things just as you ride past. I love those ones.

This week I am hoping to do a little more jumping, then am hopefully going with a friend back to the old yard to use their cross country course. I feel like having a bit of a play over some of the little logs and through the water - I think it'll be good for both of us.

This is a very short post, by my standards, and I have SO much to say, but it'll have to wait for a couple of days so that I have time to tell you ALL my news!

I shall leave you with a few photos of the hacking delights that we go past!

I'm particularly fond of these big sheets when it's really windy - they ripple and then bits of them come loose and flap like a sail!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Position First...

Echo and I have had a busy few weeks. She's coming back into work fairly consistently now which is very good, and I'm trying to believe that the fact that the saddle doesn't look like it fits her quite as well as it did when I bought her is just a 'settling in' issue. It's only when I first put it on - after I've ridden in it, it looks perfect, so I'm going to ignore it for a little while and hope it goes away!

More excitingly, we had a lesson at the beginning of this week with Wiola, whose blog I have been reading for the last 2 and a half years. It was a really interesting lesson; we've been having real problems with crookedness recently. Well, I say WE, but in fact I'm really the one with the crookedness - Echo can't hope to be straight if I'm not! Wiola came over for the day to see if we could sort out what my problems are.

It was a really interesting lesson, as it made me really think about the way I sit and what I do with my seat. One of the interesting things we worked on was using my seatbones to straighten Echo. I have always used my weight to push her away - if I sit heavier on the left seat bone, I expected her to move away to the right, away from the weight. However, Wiola got me to use it to get her to bring her own weight under me. So that if I put more weight in my left seatbone, she will move her body under that weight. I need to think this through and have a bit more of an experiment with it, but it really did seem to work.

The other really interesting thing that we worked on was in my posture. I have always looked down when I ride - it is a problem I have had ever since I learned that a horse should 'arch' its neck when it is moving (i.e. - since a LONG time ago!) Every instructor I have ever had has tried to get me to look up, but Wiola was the first person who made me realise why I need to keep my head up. I know that it makes her go on the forehand if I look down - but she explained that I need to be able to feel the movement of the horse right up into my neck - if I look down and break the straight line through my body, I can't feel the movement properly. She said also that if I look rather than feel the movement of the horse, then I will be reacting too late to things that need to be corrected. I will be a much more sensitive rider if I rely more on my feel.

Wiola rode Echo during the session and it was really good to see her work with her - she was able to explain to me exactly what she was feeling and what she was doing to correct it - and as I know Echo so well, I was able to immediately understand what she meant. Wiola has written about the lesson here and it makes a really interesting read; you can also see some video of me cantering. What's interesting is that in the video I felt as if I was almost leaning back I was sitting up so straight - in reality, it looks fairly normal - I have definitely got some work to do on this!

In addition to this lesson, I'm hoping that Wiola is going to be able to come out again to continue working with us on the straightness issue; I really feel that there is little point in spending lots of money on lessons that only work on the horse, until I have sorted my own problems out first. The lady that owns the yard I keep Echo at was really impressed by how well Echo was moving during the lesson - and we were barely concentrating on her - it just shows how vital it is to make sure you are sitting right in order to make the horse go well.

In light of this, I am also planning on having a lesson here, with a lady called Becky Chapman. Se has a mechanical horse that apparently feels exactly like riding a real horse. The benefit of this is that the horse can be trotting, but the instructor can be manipulating your body into the way you should sit while you are actually moving. It also prints out lots of graphs for you to see what the eveness is like in your seat and in your rein contact. I don't know much about it yet, but everything I have heard is incredibly positive. I'll keep you posted on this!

Monday, 1 February 2010

See what you think...

These are both of the same saddle - she's rushing a bit, but I think the saddle is staying pretty still... see what you think.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Saddle

I've ridden a few times in the saddle now and I am pretty happy with it. I had a very experienced lady watch me ride in it yesterday and she didn't think it moved at all on her back. My friends videoed me in it today (I'll put that on here tomorrow) and I took several photos from different angles. I would welcome any suggestions/thoughts on the fit of it, although I appreciate that you can't tell that much from still photos.

Before riding, the saddle sat like this:

After riding, the saddle sat like this:

This is me having just got on:

This is after riding her for 20 minutes...

What I have realised from these photos and what is likely to be glaringly obvious to you all, is HOW WONKY I AM!!!!!!!!! I am so far over to the right - I can't believe it! In these photos I was convinced I was sitting straight. The result of this is a decision - Wiola I need you!!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Got one!!

Exciting stuff: the saddler came out much sooner than expected, last night in fact, and brought with him a whole array of beautiful dressage saddles for me to try. He first had a look at my wintec, and couldn’t really see why it was slipping, but accepted that something obviously happens when I ride in it. He said that once a customer has lost faith in a saddle, it’s usually best to just ‘bite the bullet’ and get a different one. I am really starting to agree with this idea now.

He must have tried about 10 saddles on her, ranging from medium width to wide, but in the end, only one fitted perfectly – a Black Country dressage saddle in medium/wide. It is so beautiful! We took her up to the school in it, so I could try it out for a bit. Several things were against us: I had clipped her on Sunday and lo and behold, it turned FREEZING cold yesterday, so she was a little bit fresh; it was dark and last time I rode in the school with the lights on I had to work very hard to convince her that there were in fact no monsters lurking in the trees. Also, there was a little pressure to get on with it, rather than take quite as long as I usually do on a free rein, as I didn’t want to bore the poor man! Oh – and of course there was the fact that she was wearing a leather dressage saddle for the first time in her life, with no numnah and it must have felt very weird!

She was very good, given the circumstances. She was a little tense and unsure of the feel of the saddle, but she felt nice and free through the shoulders and moved nicely in it. It felt incredible – it felt like I’d come home, as I originally trained only in dressage saddles. We walked, trotted and cantered on both reins, with only a little bit of spooking and a bit of bucking when I first asked for a canter on the right rein. When I came to a halt, the saddle settled in a central position (unlike the wintec last time I rode in it) but he said that because of the poor light, he couldn’t see whether it was moving at all as I was riding. Obviously, this is very important, but the floodlights in the school are not very powerful.

What he has decided to do is leave the saddle with me for the rest of the week so that I can ride in it a few times and see how she goes. This is really helpful – I don’t think you can tell from one session. He also said that I should ride in the daylight at the weekend with some ‘knowledgeable’ people with me, so that they can see if it moves at all.

I don’t know much about buying saddles, but this seems like a really good service: I’ve not paid him anything yet and he’s said that I can make him an offer for it at the end of the week, or I can give it back if I don’t like it. I am really trying not to get too excited, as if it isn’t perfect, I’m not going to spend a fortune on it, but I can’t wait to ride her again tomorrow! Fingers crossed! I’ll take some photos at the weekend and see what you think!

Saturday, 23 January 2010


So the saddle saga continues...
I have not been happy with my saddle for a while now. We had problems months ago, so my saddler came out and changed the gullet from a wide fit to a medium, so as to make it sit higher in front and then not move around behind. This worked for about a month, but she suddenly became very sore and would not go forward - this is not like Echo at all, so I rang the saddler and he suggested changing the gullet back to a wide and using a thicker numnah for a while - just to see what happened. This felt better, but I wasn;t happy about how much it moved at the back.

I rode Echo yesterday and she was great and moved beautifully; however, when I got off, I noticed that the saddle was sitting quite a long way to the right. When I tacked her up today, I made sure that it was totally central. However, she felt very uncomfortable when on the left rein. She wouldn't leg-yield to the right (with left bend) and nearly reared when I asked her to shoulder-in left. I rode back to the yard and asked one of the ladies there to have a look from behind (she's a very knowledgable dressagey-type - very useful to have around!) and she said it was sitting so far to the right that the left panel was nearly on her spine. No wonder she didn't like me asking for left bend or sitting heavier on my left seat-bone!

The lady then asked whether I would like to try her dressage saddle on her - just to see whether it is Echo's back that makes the saddle sit badly, or whether it is my saddle. The answer: it's my saddle. The moment we placed the dressage saddle on her back, it slipped beautifully into place and looked as if it had been made to measure. I groaned inwardly, realising this was going to get expensive... I had a sit in the saddle and it stayed central; I rode some circles in it...and it stayed bang in the centre. Damn it - why do horses have to be so expensive?!

I rang my saddler there and then and explained the situation. He's away this weekend but is going to give me a ring on Monday to arrange an appointment next week. He said he'll bring a range of second hand leather GP and dressage saddles for me to try. The one that I put on her today is a KN - I thought I'd do some research online about them - and found their retail price is £1500!! I did, however, find a rather nice one on ebay for £400 though... I will wait to see what the saddler comes with.

What I now can't decide is whether to get a dressage saddle or a GP. I think, if I'm spending a lot of money (and £500 is a lot of money to me!) then I would like to go with the dressage. I have always thought that one day I would buy her a lovely leather dressage saddle; I just hadn't planned on it right now! However, I would still like to jump every now and then. It's a tricky one. I did wonder whether the saddler might be able to make my Wintec fit enough for me to jump in it occasionally...but then I don't want to ride her in a saddle that doesn't fit. We'll have to see what happens.

In the meantime, lovely, lovely lady at the yard has said that I can borrow her super duper saddle whenever she isn't using it. Such a kind person. The only request was that I use my own numnah, as Echo is moulting long white hairs right now! Talking of which, I'm going to clip her again tomorrow. Bring on the work!!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

What have Echo and I been doing? Nothing.

And this is why:

It seems to be slowly melting, so as soon as the school can be ridden in, I will be back to normal...hopefully!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Happy New Year!

A new year brings lots of new plans. I promise I will let you know what they are soon, but I don't want to jinx anything so am holding my tongue for now! In the mean time - I thought you might like to know about our progress at the new yard - or really lack of it, due to irritating white stuff that we in England are not very used to dealing with.

The end of term was really busy, so not much time for riding. I put the wider gullet into my saddle and Echo has seemed much happier with that, so I'll ride in it like that for a while and see how we get on. We broke up for the Christmas holidays and it snowed that night. Now, I'm not talking about the little sprinkle that we often get that settles for a few minutes...this was bucket loads of the stuff - I got snowed in!! Couldn't get the car out for days; so much for my plan to do loads of riding - I couldn't even get to the yard! When I did manage to get there, the school was out of use due to the snow and the horses were all hobbling round on stilts as it was balling into ice in their feet.

My boyfriend and I went on a mammoth road trip over Christmas, seeing all the families and doing the Christmas thing, which was really lovely, but meant that that was another week off riding. I got back on Tuesday and was desperate to ride - so after a day's lunging (always a good idea - increased food means increased bucking!) I rode her a couple of times this week. However...on new year's eve it decided to snow again - nowhere near as much as last time, but enough to freeze everything and make the school unrideable again. I had a hack planned for this morning - the first one since we arrived at the new yard - and I was a little concerned. I didn't get to ride yesterday so she was nice and fresh, then I couldn't go and take the edge off in the school first; I couldn't even get on her in the yard as it was so icy - we had to go and get on out on the sand track.

I went out with a lady who owns a creollo pony that she rides western style and a girl who was walking her dressage horse out in hand as he is super clumsy apparently and would fall over in the snow and ice. We went out of the gate and I got on - you go straight out onto a farm track that runs parallel to the yard and parallel to an enormous turf field - big wide spaces that must shell shock the horses. Echo was blowing and snorting as I got on, and proceeded to passage down the track - I had trouble doing my girth up, but after about 5 minutes she really settled - we tucked in behind the dressage horse's bum and Echo must have thought he was rather lovely, as she was on best behaviour after that. She must have been in a bit of shock as she didn't even look at some enormous farm machinery - huge rolls of irrigation pipes that would normally have hidden horse-eating monsters. She may also have been concentrating on the footing as it was quite slippery in places.

It was a really beautiful sunny morning, and with the fields covered in snow too it was beautiful. I was very proud of her as she didn't put a foot wrong. More of that to come - hopefully. The dressage horse is a good match for her in terms of pace in the walk and is very very calm - I think we're going to have fun hacking with them. It was nice to be out with the creollo pony too - he's very sure-footed as he came over from South America and used to be a trail horse.

Things are all going well at the new yard - Echo is very happy there, and is now out with my friends' horse that we moved here with. They aren't too fussed about each other, but it's nice that they have each other for company if they want it. There is also a lovely big chestnut horse in the field next door, which Echo was very taken with; indeed, she came into season within a few days of being there and was flirting outrageously - as you can see in the photo below. The only downside to the yard (and it isn't really a downside...) is that as she's being fed so much more and more regularly, her feet have grown at double rate! She was shod about 4 and a half weeks ago and her feet look long and need trimming. She normally gets done every 6 weeks, and even then barely needs anything to be taken off! I hope it slows down a little, as she'll cost me a fortune!

Here are some pictures from the last few weeks. I still have a post about my lesson with Andrew Day to come and some photos and a video of that.
All ready to go:

In her brand new pyjamas:

Daily adventures while training my young horse.